The evergreen foliage and beautiful, long-lasting flowers make winter heather – commonly known as winter heath – a cold-season must-have.
If you’re looking for instant conservatory ideas, they are readily available at garden centers and are the perfect plant to enhance tired bedding displays or liven up a yard as part of a container display.
The flowers consist of pretty little bells that line the stems over the winter, often for several months. They bloom in purple, pink and white, and provide food for insects that wander around on sunny days.
The foliage adds color during the cooler months too, and it’s not just green – colors in shades of bronze and amber are particularly useful because they brighten small bulbs very well.
The two main types of winter heather
Winter flowering meadows are divided into two suitable groups, according to the size of mature plants.
The vast majority are properly known as winter heath, Erica carnea. They rarely reach more than 10 inches (25 cm) in height, most commonly 6 to 8 inches (15-20 cm), but they may spread widely to form single plants up to 22 inches (55 cm) wide. Many are ideal plants for window boxes, tubs and other small containers and are very effective as ground cover plants. In many varieties, the combination of flowers and colorful foliage is very effective.
Varieties of Darley Dale heath, Erica x darleyensis, make larger plants and some varieties may reach a height of 2 feet (60 cm), or even a little more. They also tend to develop into more upright shapes, making both groups ideal planting partners.
Where to plant winter heather
Plant specialists at the Missouri Botanical Garden say wintergreens grow best in sandy, acidic, moderately moist, well-drained loam soils that are rich in organic matter.
In particular, winter meadows are more tolerant of limestone soils than other meadows, and while they grow poorly in strong limestone conditions, they grow and flower happily in conditions where other species have faded. The more organic matter in the soil, the more lime it will take. Use a test kit available at garden centers or online (try Amazon) to test your soil if you’re interested.
If your soil is very calcareous, it can be made more suitable for winter lawns by adding composted pine bark, which is very acidic. Also use it as mulch.
Plant in full sun for best blooms, however, they will need a few hours of shade each day.
When and how to plant winter heather
Winter meadows can be purchased in fall and winter for temporary display, especially in winter containers. They can then be moved to a permanent location in the garden in the spring.
Plant overwintering plants 9-12 inches (23-30 cm) apart to grow into a tangled carpet of evergreen foliage. Plant taller Darley Dale meadowsweet individually as specimens.
Because your winter meadows will be planted closer together in the ground than most other shrubs, it’s helpful to amend the soil over the entire planting area, not just where you plant each plant.
Pitch the area and spread 2-3 inches (5-7.5 cm) of organic matter, preferably an acidic material such as composted pine bark. Use your garden fork to mix it into the soil, firm it down well with your feet and you’re ready to plant.
How to take care of heather in winter?
‘Heathers are low-maintenance plants that require little practical care. “It needs pruning after flowering to maintain its shape and encourage prolific flowering the following year,” says expert gardening journalist Ruth Hayes, who has a large winter henge in her own garden.
“If you don’t prune it don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world, but you will notice the difference if you tidy it up.” Since my plant is so large, I like to use sharp, clean scissors.
“Only remove spent flower spikes and a few inches of green growth underneath. Never cut back old, brown wood as it is unlikely to produce more new shoots afterwards, resulting in bare patches around the bush.
Feeding heather after pruning is not necessary, but some balanced fertilizer will give your heather a boost. “If you can’t see the base of the plant, spread a little compost over the top and it will be blown or washed down to the roots,” adds Ruth.
Ruth is an experienced garden writer and former gardening editor for Amateur Gardening magazine. She is trained in horticulture and holds a qualification from the Royal Horticultural Society.
Her work for Houses and gardens And Amateur gardeningthe world’s oldest weekly gardening publication, matches gardening tasks to each season, covering everything from sowing and planting to pruning, taking cuttings, dealing with pests and diseases, and keeping houseplants healthy.
Planting winter heather in pots
Small plants make some of the best plants for winter pots – the scale is just right to be part of a larger scheme. Choose heather with attractive foliage and flower colours; A large garden center or specialty nursery will have plenty of options.
Some gardeners choose a combination of different varieties, but filling a winter pot or window box with cyclamen plants and a variety of heather can also be effective.
What to plant with winter heather
There are plenty of planting options if you’re looking for the perfect partner for winter flowering heather. Here are some of our favorites to add some extra color and interest to your winter landscape:
- Group your heather plants with other plants for winter color such as cyclamen; Or plant crocuses, muscari and other dwarf bulbs in complementary colors – the bulbs will be available in bud or flower after Christmas.
- For a dramatic display, heather looks great with dogwood. Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ is more compact to grow than most other plants, so it won’t overwhelm your heather. Slender, flexible shoots with a bright crimson color stand out in winter.
- Hellebores are at their best at the height of winter (usually January and February in the UK and some parts of the US). To fill your beds and borders with purple and pink hues, try Helleborus hybridus ‘Pretty Ellen’.
How to make more winter plants
Making new plants free from existing winter lawns is easy but slow.
Most winter meadows are low and densely growing, and sometimes twiggy shoots make roots where they touch the soil, especially if they are covered with smooth bark. This process can be encouraged by weighing down the lower shoots with stones to ensure good soil contact.
Another method is to place an inch or two of potting mix – no more – over the winter hag, directly on the crown, so that the base of all small branches is buried under the soil. Do this when growth begins in the spring. The stems will root in the new soil, and when the roots are an inch or two long, the rooted shoots can be cut and transferred into individual 7.5cm pots to grow in.
Common problems with winter heather
Winter plants are among the healthiest plants we can grow. If they have the conditions they need, they rarely suffer from pests or diseases.
Rabbits and other critters may graze on them, so if your garden is plagued by four-footed pests, fencing is always a wise precaution.
Root diseases can be a problem, but usually only when grown in very wet conditions.
Some heather plants can start to die back in the middle – this is a problem with the smaller, denser, more spreading varieties and usually develops over the winter. In fall, dead leaves from nearby trees collect among a mass of twiggy shoots. They become saturated with rainwater, and may be weighed down by snow, forming a soggy mass of slowly rotting leaves that soon suffocates the heather leaves and then the twiggy stems. The result is a dead zone in the middle of the plant.
treatment? Never allow fallen leaves to collect among the branches of your lawn during the winter; Just pop it out with your fingers.
Where to buy winter hing
A wide range of winter heather cultivars are available from specialty nurseries that are mail-order and will be shipped in tubes, 3.5-inch pots, 4.5-inch pots, or gallon pots. Always choose the smaller sizes, so that the roots of the growing plants can grow in the local soil. A gallon pot is usually too large for a small plot of land.
Meadowsweet is also offered in retail outlets, nurseries and garden centers in its blooming season so you can choose the color combination of flowers and foliage that you will fully appreciate.
Are winter grasses invasive?
No, wintergreens are not invasive and are rarely a nuisance in the garden because they do not creep aggressively and do not spread by seed. Spanish health (Erica lusitanica) is registered as invasive in some parts of California but is only hardy to USDA Z8, so it does not cause a problem in most parts of the country.
Will deer eat winter meadows?
Probably not, because heather is generally a deer-resistant plant.
Experts at the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, who have studied deer resistance to garden plants and consulted other experts, have compiled a classification system that divides plants into four categories from “rarely damaged” to “frequently damaged.” All meadows in Group 1 are classified as “rarely damaged,” meaning they are typically ignored by deer but can be eaten in the winter when other food is scarce.
Heath or Heather? Is it true? To be 100% correct, plants in the genus Calluna are heathers, while plants in the genus Erica are heathers. Dwarf, sun-loving, summer-flowering, evergreen heathers with small flat leaves in pairs. Meadowfoams are dwarf, sun-loving evergreens with small, needle-like leaves in clusters of different types that bloom at different times of the year.
The winter flowering Erica carnea is properly known as winter heath, alpine heath, Mediterranean heath or spring heath, but is also sometimes referred to as winter heather. The taller Erica x darleyensis is often referred to as winter heather, but it is more correctly Darley Dale heath.